As part of the system’s Career, Technical, and Agriculture Education curriculum, the Career Connections classes for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders guide students through these important questions whose answers will have a profound impact on the rest of their schooling as well as their careers and lives.
The program of study was developed by the Georgia Department of Education to introduce students to strategies of career exploration and to provide the tools needed for students to outline the path required to meet their career goals.
“Middle school is a time of discovery for students,” said Janet Greer, CTAE director for Troup County schools. “As they gain independence and begin to see themselves as individuals, our goal as educators is to help them visualize a productive and rewarding future for themselves. The Career Connections program allows students to develop a plan of action to secure that future.”
In sixth grade – the “who am I” year – the emphasis is career awareness with students engaging in activities to identify their own personal interests and aptitudes with the goal of matching these to career possibilities. In seventh grade (“where am I going”), the focus moves to career discovery where students explore the career development process as well as the many career paths available for the fields in which they have interest. In eighth grade (“how do I get there”), career management is emphasized with students setting goals and drafting a plan of study for high school and beyond.
Kalah Mingo, a seventh-grader at West Side Magnet School and avid softball player, matched her love of sports and an aptitude for business with the possible career choice of a sports agent. Through her Career Connections classes, she has identified college choices offering the appropriate course of study.
“I’m looking at Michigan State or Northwestern,” said Mingo.
Mingo’s teacher, Mary Louise Moultrie, sees this advance planning as vital in the global market.
“The world is changing and growing more competitive,” Moultrie said. “Students, now more than ever, need to know about career choices, changes in job opportunities, and what their future could hold. Even if their interests change as they grow, this process gives them the tools they need to make good decisions.”
Morrissey Whitfield, the Career Connections teacher at Gardner Newman Middle School shares this belief. “This is the perfect time for students to investigate jobs they want. If they do the research and their choice still seems right, they are further along the path. But if they discover that maybe medicine is not right for them, isn’t it better to find out now rather than when they’ve invested time and money in college?”
One of Whitfield’s students, eighth-grader Jade Williford, has taken her teacher’s advice to heart.
“Mrs. Whitfield means what she says when she talks about planning for our careers. I can tell she feels strongly about it,” said Williford, who also plans to be an educator one day and has already started observing her own teachers to identify skills of the trade. “I study the different habits of my favorite teachers to see what works and what goes into being a good teacher.”
A key component of the Career Connections curriculum is the portfolio students create through a computer program called the Georgia Career Information System.
The portfolio includes student interest inventories, high school course information, college research, career specific information, and more. Students develop their individualized portfolio over time, building on the information as they learn more about themselves, select possible careers and gather information about educational requirements.
“The portfolios stay with students as they move on to high school,” said Rose Alford, Connections teacher at Long Cane Middle School. “Students are able to make changes, update, and add to their portfolios. Graduation coaches, counselors, and parents have access as well to help students move forward with career selection and preparation.”
In addition to their portfolio, two other exercises complete each student’s individualized graduation plan assisting these middle schoolers with the transition to high school.
Career Connections teachers, with the help of graduation coaches and school counselors, work with students to thoroughly explore high school requirements and draft a course of study for the next four years that includes classes targeted to their career interests.
In high school, Career Pathways courses are of-fered through the CTAE department that provides 31 different pathways of study for students to explore career fields. Each pathway includes three courses to offer students a thorough introduction to the technical skills and core applications of that career. Middle school students begin to learn about Pathway courses in preparation for creating high school class schedules.
“We spend time in class matching the careers identified for students through their research and portfolio development to the Career Pathways offered in high school,” said Cory Speakman, chorus and Career Exploration teacher at Callaway Middle School. “Also, students learn general life skills. Learning the importance of being on time, having the materials needed each day, showing respect for others, and following through on assignments are all skills needed in the work place, but will serve students well in high school also.”
“I’ve seen the reaction students have to Career Connections,” Whitfield said. “The classes spark conversations where students are talking about their future careers with each other, and there is real excitement. This is when you know you have made an impact.”